Pilarz holds true to Jesuit roots

Marquette University President Scott Pilarz

Age: 52

Education: Ph.D., English – The City University of New York, 1996; Th.M. – Weston Jesuit School of Theology, 1992; M.Div. – Weston Jesuit School of Theology, 1991; M.A., Philosophy – Fordham University, 1985; and A.B., cum laude, English – Georgetown University, 1981.

Hometown: Camden, N.J.

Favorite author: “Many, especially poets – Robert Southwell, S.J., and John Donne to more modern poets such as Carolyn Forché, (who will speak at my inauguration) and Mary Oliver.”

Favorite movie: “A Man for All Seasons.”

Favorite musical artist: Bruce Springsteen

Favorite American president: “Franklin D. Roosevelt, who demonstrated leadership in difficult times and a great concern for people.”

Hobbies: “Cooking, The NewYork Times Sunday crossword puzzles and getting to the gym as often as I can.”

The Rev. Scott R. Pilarz, S.J., Ph.D., is the 23rd president of Marquette University.

The New Jersey native earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Georgetown University in 1981, the same year that he entered the Society of Jesus. As part of his Jesuit formation, he earned a master’s degree in philosophy from Fordham University and master’s degrees in divinity and theology from the Weston Jesuit School of Theology. He was ordained as a priest in 1992.

Father Pilarz earned his doctoral degree in English from the City University of New York.

An expert in early modern English literature, Pilarz served on the faculty of Georgetown University from 1996 to 2003 and led campus ministry efforts as university chaplain from 2002 to 2003. Pilarz served as president of The University of Scranton in Scranton, Pa., from 2003 to 2011.

Pilarz succeeds Father Robert Wild.

BizTimes: Welcome to Milwaukee, What are your first impressions of the city so far?

Pilarz: “Thank you, it’s great to be here. It has been a lot of fun, I’ve been here about three weeks now. I visited a lot last year, just about once a month, but I’ve had a great time since moving here a few weeks ago. It’s been exciting. It is really a wonderful time of year both in the city and on campus, so I’ve been enjoying it.”

BizTimes: Did you apply for the Marquette position or did someone recruit you for it?

Pilarz: “A little bit of both, actually. Some trustees reached out to me early on to ask if I was interested. I didn’t know a whole lot about Marquette at that point, so I came out to visit a couple of times. I was on the board of trustees, but I had only come to two meetings when Father Wild announced he was retiring, so I did come back sort of at the beginning of the search to get to know the campus a little bit better. I was very much learning about Marquette at the time, and people were great about helping me understand the culture and see all the advantages that the University has to offer.”

BizTimes: What were some of those advantages in terms of making this job attractive?

Pilarz: “The scope of Marquette is really impressive; the number of programs and professional schools and graduate programs is much larger than the institution I was at prior to this. I also liked the way the university was so deeply committed to its Jesuit identity and the ways in which that seemed to play out across almost every dimension of what Marquette did. One of the best things that happened was that I came out and my dad was with me and we went on a tour led by a student who should have been on the payroll, she was so good at representing Marquette. Her name was Lizzy Traudt. It was a funny experience though, because the university didn’t want to tip off anybody that I might be a candidate for the job, so I used an alias. Lizzy had no idea who I was, so she wasn’t consciously trying to get me to come to Marquette. She was terrific.”

BizTimes: As you reflect on it now, what were some of the first things that come to mind as something about Marquette that surprised or impressed you?

Pilarz: “I was very impressed with how friendly the campus is. Now, it’s the beginning of the year and the weather is great, but people will stop and say hello and talk to one another and they are just very, very friendly. In fact, I brought somebody with me from Scranton. We are both from the East Coast, and one of our first impressions was sort of one of, ‘What do these people want? They are so nice. What do they want from us?’ It turns out they are just naturally friendly!”

BizTimes: You mentioned before the Jesuit identity. In 2011, what does it mean for you personally to be a Jesuit and to follow that tradition?

Pilarz: “For me personally, it’s trying to be authentic to the spiritual tradition that has its start in the life of Saint Ignatius of Loyola and the way in which he looked at the world. Some of his core principles are very much operative, I hope, in my own life and in the life of Marquette. We talk a lot about this concept of ‘cura personalis’ which has to do with Ignatius’ own conversion experience, and the moment when he had the clear sense that God was dealing with him as a unique individual with his own hopes and dreams and aspirations and not as a generic human being or a generic Christian, but with this real deep respect and care for individuality. I hope that plays itself out in the experience that our students have here. When Saint Ignatius became the superior general of the first Jesuits, that is how he wanted to deal with his people; with respect to their unique individuality. When Jesuits got into the education business that was also true for the way Jesuit educators would deal with their students, and that’s still very much part of what we aspire to here at Marquette.”

BizTimes: Somewhere along the line, a little birdie told me you were a big fan of Bruce Springsteen. Out of curiosity, what about his music or his spirituality do you think is instructive of the human condition?

Pilarz: “I am a huge Springsteen fan, I grew up in Jersey. I think he speaks directly about his own spiritual experiences and the way in which spirituality and specifically, Catholicism, has formed his view of the world. I think he has an appreciation for the way grace can be operative in ordinary people and ordinary situations. In fact, he is a real champion for the ordinary in the sense that it can be a place where God can be found, and his belief that faith is a gift, and that’s absolutely true.”

BizTimes: Father Wild raised some $725 million during his tenure. As it relates to your tenure now, how would you describe your fundraising skills, and is it at all daunting in this economic environment?

Pilarz: “Of course it is, and as you mentioned, Father Wild was a great president in all accounts, but he was a particularly good fundraiser. These obviously are not the best economic times for that kind of effort, but I do find that people are passionate about Marquette and will stretch even in tough times to support the university. That was something that was apparent for me when being interviewed for the job. The constituents of this university are especially attached, and I appreciate that, because in times like this, Marquette needs them more than ever.”

BizTimes: What about Marquette’s connection to the community? I’ve always thought that the slogan, ‘We are Marquette,’ is at once unifying, but to the outsider it could be implied that, ‘We are Marquette and you are not,’ There is certainly room for advancement in the interconnectivity to the community, wouldn’t you agree?

Pilarz: “Well, I don’t think that was the intent of the brand there, but I absolutely think that’s a reality for higher education in the United States everywhere, not just here. I think urban universities like Marquette are particularly poised to make a difference in their communities. If you think about the 28 Jesuit universities across the United States, almost without exception, they are located in cities. That philosophy goes back to Saint Ignatius himself who opened the first Jesuit school right in the center of Rome. He thought there was an advantage to student learning in an urban environment, but also that the university could be a catalyst for change in the community. Certainly I want to see Marquette be as civically engaged as we possibly can be; and we’ve already done an awful lot. I have had lunches with the leaders of UWM and the Medical College, as well as a fair number of Catholic college presidents in the area. We are all committed to working together to make positive contributions locally.”

BizTimes: Do you have any specific goals for the university on the front end of your tenure here? Anything you’d like to improve on or attain?

Pilarz: “It’s early, but I’ve pledged publically to do a lot of listening and learning this year, and not parachute in here and impose some grand design on a university and a culture that I don’t know all that well. I do find it fascinating that a lot of people around here talk about two things that we never want to compromise our commitment to. One is academic excellence and the other is access. Marquette has a rich history of being an engine of opportunity for people. Almost a quarter of our incoming class are the first in their families to go to college, and I think that’s a really rich and important part of what Marquette has been and wants to continue to be.”

BizTimes: What about the connection to the Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee? How important is that?

Pilarz: “It’s extremely important. I think we can be a real resource as a university for the archdiocese. We’ve got tremendous expertise here on our faculty that can be of assistance to them. I’ve got a particular passion for Catholic elementary schools as well as K-through-12 and university education. These are challenging times for Catholic schools across the country, and I think there is a way in which we can use our resources as a university to be supportive of Catholic schools and the archdiocese in the area.”

BizTimes: Related to that, I’m sure you are aware of the controversy surrounding the hiring of a Dean of Arts and Sciences, where there was some admitted input from the archbishop about the concerns of hiring an openly lesbian candidate. The candidate was ultimately withdrawn. In your opinion, is independence, to some degree, important when making personnel decisions like that?

Pilarz: “Now, I wasn’t here, and I would never want to seem to be second-guessing any decision that was made prior to my arriving here. We have a close relationship with the church. There’s a doctrine called Ex Corde Ecclesiae, which, when translated, literally means out of the heart of the church. It acknowledges that universities in the middle ages in Europe were all born out of the church. We’re always going to maintain a close relationship with the Archdiocese, but at the same time, we’re a university and universities are places where academic freedom needs to thrive.”

BizTimes: So, cross that bridge when you get there?

Pilarz: “I think it’s important that we always remain in close dialogue with the Archdiocese.”

BizTimes: Turning to athletics, I’m sure you are aware of the rich basketball history at Marquette. From a pragmatic standpoint, even a fundraising standpoint, how important is athletics to Marquette’s mission?

Pilarz: “Again, it’s extremely important. We’ve got a great tradition, and we belong to a great conference that gets us a lot of national exposure. It attracts a lot of people’s attention. That’s one way we can get them in the door, and then we can tell the rest of the Marquette story, including our academic success and the great things that our students and faculty are doing. Basketball and the other athletic teams, especially as they are playing in the Big East, are a big part of the Marquette brand.”

BizTimes: Was coming to a Big East school a factor in your decision to pursue this job?

Pilarz: “Not necessarily. It’s exciting to be a part of a basketball tradition like this. I’m familiar with the Big East though. I went to Georgetown, and I taught at Georgetown for seven years. In fact, I’m the owner of a former Georgetown mascot, a 12-year-old bulldog who was bought by the class of 1999 to go to games and all that. The dog has moved with me. So, I certainly know the Big East from a spectator’s perspective.”

BizTimes: One last question, How important is it for you that Marquette maintains an open dialogue and interaction with the local business community?

Pilarz: “I think it’s tremendously important and part of the responsibility of a university like Marquette. Myself, along with the presidents of UWM and the Medical College, are working together to think about ways in which we can help be an agent for economic activity in the region.”

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